Harmonica Masters by Various Artists

Label: Yazoo Records.
Release Date: 1996.
Recording Time: 71 minutes.
Release Info: Studio Recording.

Styles: Country Blues, Harmonica Blues, Jug Band, Piedmont Blues, Pre-War Blues, Pre-War Country Blues, Regional Blues, Vaudeville Blues.

Continuing the label's exploration deep into the early vernacular music of the United States, Yazoo Records devotes this compilation to some of the finest harmonica players of the 1920s and 1930s. Harmonica Masters features performances by harp greats like DeFord Bailey, Noah Lewis, Jed Davenport, Jaybird Coleman, and 19 others. The smallest and therefore most portable of instruments, the harmonica took a place not unlike that of the violin in blues and jug band combos. As the musicians here demonstrate, it can also be a fine solo instrument. In the hands of an expert, the harmonic and melodic musical elements mesh so perfectly, it can sound as if they are occurring at the same time. In fact, they are being swapped at such a pace that the absence of neither is very noticeable at any given time. Alfred Lewis' fine playing is overshadowed only by his otherworldly falsetto on "Mississippi Swamp Moan." It takes on such a bizarre quality that it sounds more like an instrument than a voice and is matched beautifully with responsive harp lines. At the opposite extreme, "Touch Me Light Mama" is a wonderfully raw blues piece featuring George "Bullet" Williams' earthy baritone. Whatever Williams and his accompanist lack in technique, they make up for in the visceral quality of their unguarded performance. Gwen Foster's "Wilks County Blues" is an astonishing, vibrato-laden showcase of the musician's harmonica powers, reaching the upper registers of the instrument. On "Chickasaw Special," Noah Lewis expertly imitates the sounds of a train -- an example of a performance style probably introduced by Williams McCoy. From novelty to dance music to deep blues, from accompanist to soloist, Harmonica Masters demonstrates the fascinating tonal and musical possibilities of this underacknowledged instrument. - Review by Nathan Bush.

Credits: Ashley & Foster - performer, primary artist; Clarence Ashley - performer, primary artist; DeFord Bailey - performer, primary artist; Dr. Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters - primary artist; Bubbling Over Five - primary artist; Leroy Carr - composer; The Carver Boys - performer, primary artist; Nobel Carver - guitar; Robert Carver - guitar; Dutch Coleman - primary artist; Jaybird Coleman - composer, Harmonica, performer, primary artist; Robert Cooksey - performer, primary artist; The Crook Brothers - performer, primary artist; Herman Crook - harmonica; Lewis Crook - banjo; Matthew Crook - harmonica; Jed Davenport - harmonica, performer, primary artist; Sleepy John Estes - performer, primary artist; Gwen Foster - harmonica, performer, primary artist; Sam Harris - accompaniment; Salty Holmes - harmonica, performer, primary artist; Don Kent - liner notes, producer; Leecan & Cooksey - primary artist; Bobby Leecan - performer, primary artist; Alfred Lewis - composer, performer, primary artist; Noah Lewis - harmonica, performer, primary artist; Palmer McAbee - performer, primary artist; David McCarn - primary artist, Vocals; William McCoy - harmonica, performer, primary artist; Murphy Brothers Harp Band - primary artist; Richard Nevins - producer, remastering; Hammie Nixon - harmonica; Joan Pelosi - art direction; Six Cylinder Smith - guitar, performer, primary artist; Freeman Stowers - performer, primary artist; Traditional - composer; Robert Vosgien - digital mastering; Muddy Waters - composer; Red Whitehead - primary artist; Red Whitehead - performer, primary artist; G. Williams - composer; George "Bullet" Williams - harmonica, performer, primary artist; Kyle Wooten - harmonica, performer, primary artist.

Tracks: 1) Ice Water Blues - DeFord Bailey; 2) Lost Boy Blues - Palmer McAbee; 3) Mississippi Swamp Moan - Alfred Lewis; 4) Choking Blues - Kyle Wooten; 5) Chickasaw Special - Noah Lewis; 6) Pannsylvania Woman Blues - Six Cylinder Smith; 7) Take Your Foot Out of the Mud & Put It in the Sand - Dr. Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters; 8) Don't Mistreat Your Good Boy Friend - Bubbling Over Five; 9) The Downfall of Paris - Murphy Brothers Harp Band; 10) Touch Me Light Mama - George "Bullet" Williams; 11) Booneville Stomp - Dutch Coleman / Red Whitehead; 12) How Long Blues - Jed Davenport; 13) East Virginia Blues - Clarence Ashley / Ashley & Foster / Gwen Foster; 14) Goin' Cross the Sea - The Crook Brothers; 15) Just It - William McCoy; 16) Wilkes County Blues - Gwen Foster; 17) Man Trouble Blues - Jaybird Coleman; 18) I Want My Mama - Salty Holmes; 19) Gastonia Gallop - David McCarn; 20) Don't Let Your Head Hang Down - Leecan & Cooksey / Robert Cooksey / Bobby Leecan; 21) Sisco Harmonica Blues - The Carver Boys; 22) Down South Blues - Sleepy John Estes; 23) Medley of Blues - Freeman Stowers.